Pre-GOP Convention Poll Roundup

A new round of polls is out, with mostly positive news for President Bush going into his convention.

MSNBC – NBC News Poll: President, Kerry still deadlocked (MSNBC)

Exactly one week before President George W. Bush accepts his party̢۪s nomination in New York, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Bush has a slight lead against Democratic challenger John Kerry, despite troubling numbers for the president on the economy, Iraq, and the nation̢۪s direction.

According to the survey, which was conducted by Hart/McInturff, Bush and Dick Cheney get support from 47 percent of registered voters, Democrats Kerry and John Edwards get 45 percent, and Independents Ralph Nader and Peter Camejo get 3 percent. Those numbers are virtually unchanged from the last NBC/Journal poll, which was released on July 22.

Yet while Bush leads the horse race, both the economy and Iraq continue to dog his re-election campaign. The poll shows that 52 percent of respondents disapprove of Bush̢۪s handling of the economy, compared with 43 percent who approve. Regarding Iraq, 49 percent say removing Saddam Hussein from power was not worth the casualties or financial cost of the war, while 43 percent say it was worth it.

Overall, 50 percent of registered voters believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, compared with 36 percent who believe it̢۪s headed in the right direction. And asked whether Bush deserves re-election, 50 percent say no, while 46 percent say yes. All of these results are practically identical to the findings from the July survey.

However, the poll also shows that Bush̢۪s standing in the war on terrorism has gotten stronger. Fifty-three percent of registered voters approve of his handling on terrorism, while 42 percent disapprove. For Bush, that̢۪s an increase from June, when 48 percent said they approved, compared with 47 percent who disapproved.

“The bottom line is that the numbers are not strong enough to say that Bush definitively will or will not win re-election,” said Jay Campbell, a Democratic pollster with Hart Research. “They seem to be going both ways.” Nevertheless, Republican pollster Bill McInturff points out that Bush is in a precarious situation with just a little more than two months before the election. “He is really frozen… It’s a very difficult haul to get where he is on the ballot and get higher,” he said. “We need a little more than a bump up to make this [something other than] a difficult race.” But McInturff notes that Bush is still leading in category that matters most: the horse race.

Well, actually, the state-by-state horse races are what matter. And the news there is starting to look more promising, if only slightly:

Bush Leads Kerry in 3 Key States (LAT)

President Bush has moved past Sen. John F. Kerry in three of the most hotly contested Midwestern battleground states despite continued doubts about the country’s direction and the president’s policies, new Los Angeles Times polls have found. According to the surveys, Bush has opened leads within the margin of error in Ohio, Wisconsin and Missouri — states at the top of both campaigns’ priority lists. In Missouri, Bush leads among registered voters 46% to 44%; in Wisconsin, he leads 48% to 44%; and in Ohio, the president holds a 49% to 44% advantage, the surveys found.

Like a national Times poll released Wednesday, the surveys underscore the difficulty Kerry has had converting a general desire for change into support for his candidacy. The Massachusetts senator trails Bush even though a majority of voters in all three states said the country is not better off because of Bush’s policies and “needs to move in a new direction.” But while Bush is drawing support from virtually all the voters who back his policy direction, Kerry is attracting only about four-fifths or fewer of the voters in the three states who said they want a new course. Voters like Barb Chiamulera — a special education teacher from Florence, Wis., who responded to the poll — remain torn between disappointment in Bush and uncertainty about Kerry. “It seems like we’re kind of at a dead end,” she said of Bush’s presidency. “But I just feel I don’t know Kerry’s philosophy as well as I should. I still don’t really feel like he’s come up with any definite plan for what he would do and how he would change things.”

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Wisconsin and Ohio are among three states where a group of anti-Kerry Vietnam veterans has run ads accusing him of lying to win his medals in Vietnam. The ads did not air in Missouri. Fully 56% of voters in Wisconsin and 58% in Ohio say they have seen the ads from Swift Boats Veterans for Truth, more than the 47% in Missouri or 48% nationally. As with this week’s national poll, a majority of the voters surveyed in each state rejected the allegations that Kerry had misrepresented his service record. Those charges have been forcefully challenged over the past week by a succession of eyewitness accounts and official documents mostly confirming Kerry’s version of events. But many voters remain uncertain.
In Wisconsin, 55% of voters said they thought Kerry had earned his medals, while 16% believed he had misrepresented his service; the rest were either unsure or unaware of the controversy. In Missouri, 54% said they accepted Kerry’s version, 17% sided with the critics. In Ohio, the balance didn’t tilt quite as strongly for Kerry, but even there 51% said they accepted his version while 20% did not. “He went and he fought for us and that’s all that matters,” said Doug Redd, a union carpenter from Portsmith, Ohio, who voted for Bush in 2000 but now backs Kerry. “I don’t care if he got that Purple Heart when he tripped over a branch. He fought for us.”

The surveys also show that voters in all three states pick Bush over Kerry when asked which man is most likely to develop a plan to succeed in Iraq and who would be more qualified to serve as commander in chief. Voters in all three states also gave Bush a big lead when asked which would best protect the nation from terrorism. “I feel confident George Bush is an adult and he takes his job seriously,” said Tom Kelly, an equipment operator in Cudahy Wis. “As far his Number One duty to protect citizens, I feel he’s doing everything in his power to do that.”

By narrow margins in Wisconsin and Ohio, and a wider margin in Missouri, more voters picked Bush when asked which candidate shares their moral values. And, as in the national poll, far more voters pick Kerry than Bush when asked which man is most likely to flip-flop on issues.

But warning signs for the president continue to flicker through the poll. In Ohio, Bush’s overall approval rating remained mired at 47%, unchanged from June, with 50% disapproving. And in Missouri and Wisconsin, slightly more voters disapproved than approved of his handling of the economy; the dissatisfaction peaked in Ohio, which has lost 230,000 jobs since Bush took office, with 52% disapproving. “Our jobs are going overseas faster and faster, and he doesn’t even care,” said Redd.

Presidential Race Tied Going Into GOP Convention (Fox News)

President George W. Bush is seen as the candidate who would do a better job handling the war against terrorism and a national crisis, while voters see Democrat John Kerry as the candidate better able to create jobs and handle domestic issues like prescription drug benefits. The president has made gains this month in his job performance rating, but the race for the White House remains extremely tight in the week before the Republican National Convention in New York. These are some of the findings of the latest FOX News national poll of likely voters. The presidential race is tied with Kerry holding a one-point advantage over Bush among likely voters, down from a five-point edge immediately following the Democratic National Convention. When independent candidate Ralph Nader is included, he receives three percent, Kerry 44 percent and Bush 43 percent.

More Bush voters say they back their candidate strongly. Fully 77 percent of Bush supporters say they back him “strongly” compared to 64 percent of Kerry voters. Both candidates receive equally strong backing from their party faithful; Bush is supported by 88 percent of Republicans and Kerry by 85 percent of Democrats. Kerry has a small six-point edge over Bush among independent voters. By a four-point margin, women are more likely to pick Kerry over Bush, while men are evenly divided. Among veterans, Bush tops Kerry by 51 percent to 42 percent in the two-way matchup. It should be noted that these results are based on a small number of veterans. Bush receives his highest support among conservatives, whites, high-income families, those who frequently attend religious services and voters living in the South. Kerry’s strongest backers are young people, non-whites, liberals and those living in the Northeast and West.

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 1,000 likely voters for FOX News on August 24-25. “Likely voters” are defined as respondents who are considered more likely to vote in the November presidential election. All FOX News polls between now and Election Day will focus on these voters to get a more accurate estimate of the election outcome.

Poll: Bush has slim lead over Kerry (USA Today)

President Bush enters his convention week holding a slight lead over Democrat John Kerry and regaining ground he lost after Kerry’s convention on the key issues of handling terrorism and Iraq, a new USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows. In a head-to-head matchup, Bush led Kerry 50%-47% among likely voters, while Kerry led Bush 48%-47% among registered voters. With independent Ralph Nader included, Bush leads Kerry, 48%-46%, among likely voters. Nader gets 4%.

The poll of 1,004 adults, conducted Monday through Wednesday, had a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points. The margin was +/- 4 points for the subgroups of registered and likely voters.

Bush’s favorable rating of 54% was his highest since April. By contrast, Kerry’s 52% was his lowest since January. Bush dominated on personal traits such as “honest and trustworthy” and “stands up for what he believes in.” But Kerry continued to lead Bush when people were asked who would better handle taxes, education, Medicare and the economy.

The president’s job-approval rating, 49%, is lower than Bill Clinton’s 53% in 1996 or Ronald Reagan’s 54% in 1984. But it is higher than the ratings scored by recent losing incumbents — George H.W. Bush at 35% in 1992, Jimmy Carter at 32% in 1980.

Veterans Mostly Support Bush, National Poll Finds (WaPo)

Sen. John F. Kerry has emphasized his Vietnam service hoping to inspire fellow veterans — whom he calls his “band of brothers” — to support his presidential campaign. But a new nationwide poll and conversations with area veterans show that they remain deeply split over the former Navy lieutenant. Despite Kerry’s courting, veterans say they trust President Bush more than Kerry as commander in chief, 56 percent to 38 percent, according to a report released yesterday by the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey.

While the survey showed that Kerry got a boost from the Democratic National Convention, during which his Vietnam service was emphasized, 59 percent told pollsters recently that they have a favorable opinion of Bush, compared with 42 percent for Kerry. The sampling of veterans had a margin of error of 4 percent.

In interviews this week, local veterans said their opinion of John Kerry — for better or for worse — was forged long ago and has not been affected by ads accusing Kerry of lying about his wartime record. Many veterans dismissed the attack-and-volley surrounding Kerry’s Vietnam service and his antiwar activism as a political sideshow not likely to change their votes. “I can’t make heads or tails out of it,” said Keith Weeks, 72, a Korean War veteran who was soaking up the sun Tuesday in the back yard of Arlington VFW Post 3150. “You can’t know who’s telling the truth.”

These numbers still tell us the same story we’ve known for months: It’s an incredibly close race. These numbers are very weak for the president as compared to the huge poll ratings he had in the months after the 9/11 attacks. Still, given the lackluster economic recovery, the steady drumbeat of depressing news out of Iraq, and a year of relentless attacks from the Democrats and their supporters, these numbers are quite encouraging.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2004
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.